Drone integration advances

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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the end of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program and the start of a new effort in the same breath. Eight of the nine participants in the UAS IPP (all but the city of San Diego) were named as participants in the new initiative.

“The three years of information gathered under the drone Integration Pilot Program will be applied to a new initiative called BEYOND, which will further advance the safe integration of drones into our national air space,” Chao said.

Launched in 2017, the UAS IPP tested a range of applications and missions, including flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), widely viewed as essential to enabling package delivery, infrastructure inspection, emergency response, pest control, and other uses that will drive the utility and utilization of unmanned aircraft. To date, most such efforts have been limited in scope and experimental, approved by the FAA on a case-by-case basis.

“AOPA congratulates the FAA and the nine IPP participants for their work toward safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system,” said AOPA Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs Christopher Cooper. “AOPA supports the FAA’s BEYOND program and we look forward to working with industry to support technology that not only provides scalable beyond line of sight operations, but will also ensure safety and collision avoidance without requiring additional equipment, services, and/or airspace restrictions to manned aircraft.”

Two days ahead of the FAA’s announcement that the UAS IPP is now going BEYOND, North Dakota announced that a $28 million state investment allocated in 2019 will soon result in the creation of a massive network of ground-based sensors, communications systems, and data processing infrastructure that will support safe operation of drones flown BVLOS and enable users to detect and avoid so-called “non-cooperative” aircraft, a description often used in engineering circles for aircraft flown at low altitude without equipment to broadcast the aircraft’s position.

On-board electronics that enable unmanned aircraft to detect other flying objects may still prove the most scalable answer, and at least one such system has shown promise: Iris Automation, a San Francisco tech startup, announced the Casia 360 system in April, the latest iteration of a system that matches cameras with computers running sophisticated motion detection algorithms and can automatically move the drone out of the path of any conflicting air traffic. Iris has worked with UAS IPP participants, and more recently, the

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